Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Rebels' secondary beat up
Mississippi defensive back Myles Hartsfield (15) tackles Louisiana Monroe wide receiver R.J. Turner (2) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)
FAYETTEVILLE -- The University of Arkansas will face a depleted Ole Miss secondary and one of the worst defenses in the nation from a statistical standpoint Saturday in Little Rock.
A series of injuries have wrecked the Rebels' secondary, with cornerback Jaylon Jones (ACL), nickel back Montrell Custis (ACL) and free safety C.J. Moore (torn pectoral muscle) all lost for the season. Cornerback Ken Webster has missed playing time with a hamstring injury, though he's been back for a couple of weeks.
On top of that, safety C.J. Miller and cornerback Myles Hartsfield both rolled their ankles during last week's 70-21 rout of Louisiana-Monroe.
The Rebels were forced to move a couple of offensive players -- running back Armani Linton and athlete Tylan Knight -- over to the defense, and both of them have been contributors.
Ole Miss is last in the SEC and No. 123 nationally in allowing 307.8 passing yards per game.
Arkansas Coach Chad Morris was asked Wednesday whether it was tempting to tilt his game plan in favor of the pass based on the Rebels' personnel issues.
"They have had some injuries, but they are very well coached," Morris said. "A lot of experience back there. What we'll do is just worry about ourselves and do what we do, try to get this football team better each week."
Ole Miss defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff was asked how he saw the position battle at free safety after Miller's injury.
"It's really not a position battle with all the injuries," McGriff said. "We have to play everybody at that spot. We're hoping C.J. progresses fast and gets back on the grass real quick."
Junior tailback Devwah Whaley was out of a green (limited contact) jersey for the first time Wednesday since suffering a concussion at Auburn on Sept. 22, increasing the likelihood he'll play Saturday against Ole Miss.
In his absence, Rakeem Boyd has rushed for 149 yards to take over the team lead with a total of 294 yards. He's also caught nine passes for 57 yards.
"It will be great to get [Whaley] back, but Rakeem Boyd has had a really good last few weeks," Coach Chad Morris said. "I do anticipate being able to roll Devwah in if he's able to go."
Offensive coordinator Joe Craddock said Boyd and sophomore Chase Hayden were sore on Sunday and Monday after taking shots against Alabama, and he's happy to get Whaley back in the mix.
"You always want to go with who's hot," Craddock said. "Obviously, you guys know the statistics with Rakeem, and what he was able to do against Alabama. He did some really good things.
"Also, he ran through some guys that were unblocked, and he also had some pretty good holes to run in with the offensive line. They did a really good job. We had a new scheme that we put in last week. So, you always want to go with the guy that's hot, the guy that's making people miss."
Right guard Johnny Gibson was in a green (limited contact) jersey for the second day in a row. Hjalte Froholdt moved over to his spot from left guard, and Austin Capps came in at Froholdt's spot in the early team periods Wednesday.
Tackle Noah Gatlin, who wore a yellow (no contact) jersey for Tuesday's practice inside the Walker Pavilion, did not dress out for Wednesday's work. Gatlin's lingering ankle injury is making a redshirt season more likely after he played in the first three games.
Forget about it
Safety Santos Ramirez said the Razorbacks aren't having an Alabama hangover this week as they prepare to play Ole Miss.
"We can't see it as, 'Oh, we just got obliterated by Alabama,' " he said. "Nah, we have to come back and have amnesia. Next opponent, next game, next opportunity.
"You have to have that type of mentality, man, and I feel like we do have that. We have tunnel vision going forward, and we're just focusing on Ole Miss."
Asked again on Wednesday's SEC teleconference about the tight end screens that gave Alabama trouble last week, Chad Morris expanded on some of his earlier comments.
"We felt like they were just aggressive up front ... and did a really good job of retracing on any screen release that you had," Morris said. "So we tried to use that against them.
"But again, they were very sound and very well coached, so when you go against teams of that caliber, you try to do some things that maybe make a few of their keys lie to them."
Quarterback Ty Storey lost two fumbles and threw a 44-yard pick-six on a tipped pass intended for Chase Harrell to give the Razorbacks a minus-3 turnover margin in the loss to Alabama.
Arkansas offensive coordinator Joe Craddock said ball security is a daily message hammered home to the quarterbacks, including staff members wearing boxing gloves to try to punch the ball out in drill work.
Alabama defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs hammered out the first fumble, then recovered it with Arkansas driving at the Alabama 41 on its first possession.
"That's a learning experience for Ty he'll get better at," Craddock said. "He was trying to get rid of the ball, not take a sack there. As soon as his left hand came off the ball, their guy came in and punched at it pretty violently that I don't know if he had two hands on it if he'd be able to hold onto it."
On the second fumble, linebacker Dylan Moses squared up the ball with a helmet shot at the Alabama 1 early in the second quarter.
"The one going into the end zone, Ty was really disappointed in because he made a great, great read on the run and was going in to score," Craddock said. "We thought at first he had reached the ball over or tried to reach the ball over, but that wasn't the case. He had pretty good ball protection there, and it's just one of those things that happens."
Defensive end McTelvin Agim said he's excited to play Ole Miss at night after the Razorbacks' last two games kicked off at 11 a.m.
"I think the majority of the fans hate those early games," Agim said. "Now it gives fans time to get ready, to tailgate and then be able to come inside and enjoy the game."
While Arkansas has lost five consecutive games, Agim said he believes fans are excited about the team's improvement.
"I think every game we've been able to increase production on both sides of the ball," he said. "I feel like the defense last week had a little step back from a high-powered Alabama team, but I feel like we're still making strides."
Fly and bus
Ole Miss, located 225 miles from War Memorial Stadium in Oxford, Miss., will bus back and forth to Saturday's game in Little Rock.
The Razorbacks, positioned 188 miles from the stadium in Fayetteville, will fly to Little Rock and back for the game.
Getting a peek
A scout for the Houston Texans attended Wednesday's practice and spent a large part of the open periods taking looks at the linebackers, defensive linemen and running backs.
Sports on 10/11/2018
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